Water rights, hemp, coal are key issues for House candidates in north Whatcom County

If Democrat Joy Monjure is to defeat incumbent Vincent Buys, R-Lynden, in the Nov. 4 election for a state House seat, she’s got two major disadvantages to overcome.

She was a distant second in the two-person primary in August, getting 43 percent of the vote to Buys’ 57 percent. Also, as of Tuesday, Oct. 14, she had received just a dollar in campaign contributions for every $3.48 Buys had raised.

In 194 state legislative races with two candidates since 2008, only two Democrats defeated Republicans after coming in second in the primary. Both of those Democrats had large fundraising advantages.

None of this fazed Monjure in an interview Tuesday, Oct. 14, one day before ballots were mailed to voters.

“I’m not looking at it negatively at all. We’re calling it the ‘get money out of politics’ campaign,” Monjure joked.

“I don’t want a bunch of money, and I don’t think I need a bunch of money to win the election,” Monjure said, adding that she’s gotten positive responses from people in her north Whatcom County district. “I’m feeling confident, and I’m feeling like the right person (for the job).”

Monjure, 66, said she has more experience than the 35-year-old Buys, a two-term representative who admitted to a “steep learning curve” in an op-ed for The Bellingham Herald. Monjure worked for 23 years in communications at Bellingham’s Public Works Department, in addition to time spent as an Everson City Council member.

“My job was to educate people on water resources — how to protect them and how it all works,” Monjure said of her city job at a candidate forum Thursday, Oct. 9, in Birch Bay.

Monjure would bring this background to bear on the current water conflict in the county. Tribes want to establish a set amount of water in the Nooksack River and its streams for fish habitat, a move that would leave whatever water is left for farmers and other users. Farmers are concerned there wouldn’t be enough water left for them after federal courts rule on the tribes’ water rights. Some farmers already are irrigating with insufficient water rights.

“I intend to write legislation to bring our county’s water interests together to negotiate with our local tribes and settle that issue,” Monjure wrote on a questionnaire sent to candidates by The Bellingham Herald.

Buys said in response to the water issue, he’s developing a plan with commercial and recreational fishers, and the tribes, to increase salmon runs. Lummi Nation is showing interest in the plan, a public-private partnership that would change the way the state hatcheries are run, Buys said.

“We’re looking at it as a way, with local salmon stock, to replenish (the population), knowing and understanding we’re never going to get all the water back, and we’re never going to get all the habitat back,” Buys said.

Monjure, who runs a farm stand and helped create the Whatcom Food and Farm Finder, said she would help farmers in her district by promoting legislation that would allow the cultivation of industrial hemp.

“Renewable, fast-growing hemp could allow major industries to reduce their dependence on nonrenewable, fast-disappearing resources and move toward sustainable production,” Monjure wrote on the questionnaire.

Buys in 2013 and 2014 worked on a bill that would have created a hemp industry. The bill didn’t make it through the Senate in 2014, after passing the house 97-0.

The legislation will have even more momentum next year, Buys said, because the latest federal farm bill reclassifies hemp seed as an ordinary agricultural product that doesn’t require approval by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“The legislation is pretty much ready to go,” Buys said.

Monjure said she opposes a proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point.

“I believe a deep-water port at Cherry Point would help the local economy,” Monjure wrote on the questionnaire. “However, I don’t believe it should be built to export products that we know harm human health and the environment.”

Buys received $1,500 in donations from the project proponent, Pacific International Terminals.

“Any proposed terminal will be put through a rigorous environmental review process,” Buys wrote on the questionnaire. “I support continued industrial development out at Cherry Point if it can be accomplished in a safe manner.”